I bought the above postcard on impulse in about 1975, thinking: ‘That’s hilarious! It would be difficult to take serious offence at receiving it, yet the message is unmistakable! I’m bound to need one of those some day…’
And I have. But I haven’t yet sent it. It has disappeared for the odd decade at the back of a drawer, then surfaced during the next move, been refiled where I could find it if I needed it, and now rests only an arm’s length away at the back of a card rack on my desk. I would never admit this, but probably the reason for its promotion is that in the last year of wrestling with publishers I’ve come closer than ever to sending it. I have actually extracted it from the rack, placed it in front of me with a view to signing and addressing it, incandescently contemplated its visceral and acerbic message, then…put it back in its rack.
The ‘politics’ of publication (by which I mean ‘personal politics’, of course, not the ideological variety, although they can enter into it) are turbid and tetra-toxic. Take last Monday and Tuesday. I decided to make a final, final list of publishers to tackle (I had so far approached 47), by collating the notes from my last four visits to the Biography section at Waterstones AND going through the 65 pages of ‘Book Publishers UK and Ireland’ in Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook 2017 for the very last time.
It did not take long to extract the marrow from my notes, but since the list in Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook comprises over 500 publishers, re-examining them was slow work. It is no exaggeration to say, though, that the process was accompanied by an internal monologue something like this:
Ah, Caligula…he once sent me an ‘advance’ of £1000 after I’d flatly refused to work for him, assuming I suppose that I would take the poisoned bait…
Aaaargh, X Publisher…it’s a complete tragedy that I can’t tackle them, they are one of the most suitable, but they would give it to that ghastly Russianist to read who is so competitive that said person would diss it on principle and steal my material…
Hello, there’s that formula ‘no approaches except through a respectable agent’ again…could those two publishers separated by ten pages be owned by the same person? Goodness yes, they are and he diddled me in the 1980s… How on earth does he know what a ‘respectable’ agent is?
(Sigh) It really is a pity about Y Publisher…couldn’t I possibly reconsider them? No: they offered me a contract then told me the book didn’t ‘read well’. Of course, they might be right, but their examples revealed them as literarily naive. In any case they are rude. Who tells their own author ‘you can’t write’?!
Ah, Z Publisher… I’ve done four books with them…when did I write to that smarmy bloke up there…what, 28 August! Not even to reply to my proposal, which took four hours to compile according to their template, is downright insulting… He’s a candidate for the orange card, if anyone is.
Hang on, what is this outfit? ‘Biography’…how did I overlook them? Authors include…eminent names…Kim Philby…Donald Trump… Er, I don’t think so!
I could, of course, go on, but you get my drift. The theatre is a piranha pool of ‘politics’, but at least you can see the piranhas, distract them, sweet-talk them, take evasive action and so forth, but most of the time with publishers you can’t get anywhere near them physically, you can’t see the whites of their eyes, you only have written communication which enables them to behave outrageously and get away with it… Yes, publishing is profoundly personally politicised and one must take that very seriously if one is not to waste one’s time. I have even been prevented from taking on the best (‘respectable’) agent in the country for a book like mine by the fact that they represent a well-known Russianist virago whom they would be bound to consult.
By the end of last Monday, I had that ‘final, final’ list of publishers to approach and it consisted of twelve. I spent all Tuesday morning researching them and their personnel on the Web. By lunchtime I had to reject them all, for one reason and another, sometimes objective, sometimes purely ‘personal’, such as, alas, the look of their editors’ portraits…
Yes, finding a publisher is, as John Dewey has said, a matter of luck. Or chance. Or contingency. Or personal politics. All my past experience tells me that. Publishing is what mathematicians, I believe, would call ‘a system near to the edge of chaos’. Quite by chance, I notice that a very bright publisheress, with whom I had good dealings back in 1998, has taken over in a ‘distinguished’ firm that I was warned off three years ago because it did ‘no marketing’ (London literati). Now they do do marketing. Will she remember me? I have written her such a careful, subjunctive letter as Proust himself might be proud of.
Someone, though, at the end of this exercise, is going to get the floral card from me, I just know it; unless, after forty years, I can’t bear to part with it and I convert it into a kind of witch’s doll (technically, I gather, a ‘poppet’) that I take out every so often to mutter over, in order to exorcise my wrath, then replace in the rack.
Meanwhile, the decision about who is going to publish George Calderon: Edwardian Genius will be taken around 15 December as promised, but not announced until the day after Twelfth Night, so as not to disrupt the next two posts. I heard today from our chosen printer for self-publishing that we will have four months from the beginning of January to get the hardback designed and typeset to appear on 4 June 2018, so we should manage that. That date is, of course, the anniversary of George Calderon’s death at Gallipoli. The idea would be to have a second launch/marketing storm to coincide with the end of the War and George’s 150th birthday on 2 December 2018. After that, the book would go to Kindle and Amazon paperback.